Jim is 72 years old and lives in his own apartment off of a busy street in Sioux Falls. He has access to case managers, physicians, a housekeeper, and even a senior meal program. Jim gets his basic needs met, however, socializing is difficult for him. He lives alone. Jim never married, and does not have any kids. His surviving family members are either in nursing homes, or not living in the area. Jim does not drive. He has difficulty walking, and will admit he probably should use the walker that is sitting in his apartment collecting dust.
Multiple times a week, Jim calls a taxi to take him about two blocks away to a fast food restaurant to just be around people. Here, he eats and chats with people that sit nearby him. While he enjoys being around people, larger crowds make him nervous, which make it difficult for him to go to very many social gatherings.
I started spending time with Jim through the Better Together program in late February of this year. Our typical meeting is Friday afternoons around lunch time for about an hour. During this hour, we look for the best meal deals we can find at various fast food restaurants around Sioux Falls.
The first few meetings were that awkward small talk dance you get when you are getting to know someone. We talked about how busy that traffic is on 41st street, speculation about what the weather will do over the next week, or talked about current events (even though neither of us regularly watch the news).
Slowly, over the past couple of months, though, our small talk has given way to something a little deeper. It started with the humor. We have begun making jokes with each other. Recently, Jim ate a sub sandwich that he found to be so tasty, that he asked a manager at the sub shop if they would deliver subs to his apartment. After being notified that he needed to order a platter of at least 10 for delivery, Jim’s eyes widened. “Well, these are good subs, but what would I do with 10 of them all for myself?! I wouldn’t have room for anything else in my refrigerator!” Since then, I occasionally ask Jim if he has broken down and bought a fridge full of subs yet.
With the humor has also come deeper conversation. I ask about his health, or how his sister in the nursing home is doing. He asks about how my family is doing. A few weeks ago, Jim told me he was feeling nervous about waiting for some medical test results, and called me as soon as he found out that he was in the clear. What started out as a volunteer meeting with a participant for a program has become two friends forging a meaningful relationship. Every time Jim introduces me to people in a public setting with the phrase “Here’s my friend”, I feel very fortunate.
Our time together has been so fun, that we are planning future activities. Jim recently told me that he wants to try his hand at go-karting. Last week, I helped Jim go shopping for glasses, and he picked some out that look exactly like the ones that I wear. Apparently, my role has gone from volunteer, to friend, to trusted fashion expert! I never could have predicted spending my time with an older adult going the direction of riding go-karts while wearing matching glasses, but I am so excited for the adventure of getting to know someone new.
Better Together is in need of volunteers to meet with older adults just like Jim. Please consider applying today!